Everyone is interested in politics. You might not think so, but it’s true. Maybe you’re not engaged with formal, old-fashioned, political processes but unless you’re the happiest person on Earth, there’s always something that you think could be done better.
If there’s an issue you care enough about to want to change, it can be difficult to know where to start. Can a single person actually make a difference to the world around them, or should we just sit it out, wait, and hope for some systemic change to occur all on its own?
There are a million and one reasons to not do something – no time, no money, no idea where to start – and these can weigh down hard on the desire to take action. How can we push past this and persevere?
I could spend the rest of my life writing a list of things in the world that I think should be done differently.
Five years ago I decided to do something about one issue in particular; our outdated system of elections.
Right now, to cast our vote, we queue up at occasionally decrepit buildings to mark a piece of paper with a pencil, praying that it gets counted correctly in a sports hall several hours later at 3 am. I decided that this was something that should be done differently, and something I was willing to make happen.
I started campaigning in my spare time for the introduction of a remote online voting option in elections so that we can have the choice of voting on our smartphones in future. I now work on this full time.
I won’t go into the details, you can read more about it here, but it was and continues to be, a reform which faces strong opposition from those keen to preserve the status quo.
With any significant reform, you decide to pursue, you will face this same challenge. Decision makers are time-poor and it will always be simpler to argue for the status quo. Whilst I can’t claim to have succeeded yet in my goal (I’ll only accept victory when I’ve cast a vote from my phone), there has been huge progress since starting the campaign. We’ve had the backing of senior politicians from all of the major political parties in the UK, reached millions of people online, and the Scottish and Welsh Governments have recently made a commitment to pilot online voting in elections.
So how can you drum up the energy required to take on the establishment and create the change you want to see?
Here are six practical steps:
1. Don’t worry about what other people will think.
I remember feeling self-conscious about what others will think (that I’m mad?) when I started campaigning with a simple Facebook status. Your friends will back you and life is too short to care about what everyone else thinks.
2. Stop wasting time on mindless activities that don’t really add anything to your life.
If you’re serious about changing the world, don’t expect it to be a walk in the park, you are going to have to put in the hard graft and why spend an hour a day watching EastEnders when you could spend that time working on your campaign? (I cut out hours of wasted time on Candy Crush, QuizUp, and EastEnders and haven’t looked back).
3. Know your subject.
You’re going to need to learn about the area you are campaigning on inside out. You need to understand what the pros and cons are of your idea and be able to defend it in a debate. When you eventually end up sitting in front of a Government Minister, you need to be able to confidently and comprehensively answer questions on the reform you are pushing.
4. Don’t compete, collaborate.
There’s no point duplicating work. If you really want to see your idea become reality, work with others and find the synergies. It’s highly likely that they are facing similar challenges to yourself and you can share advice with each other.
5. Learn to appreciate failure.
Everyone fails at some point and you will end up getting things wrong in your campaign, but failure is an accident that can make you better and smarter. Understand what went wrong, why, and how you can do it better next time.
6. Be prepared to spend your own money.
For the first few years, I found a way to do everything for free and if costs did arise (website registration, leaflets, banners), I’d pay for it myself. If you want to take your campaign to the next stage you will need to find funds from somewhere (look up some grant-making organisations, there may be one that aligns with your work) but if you are not prepared to put your own money into it, how can you expect anyone else to?
It’s different for everyone, but if you want to motivate yourself and convert your passion into action, being great at what you do, learning from failure, and backing yourself will help drown out the negativity in your mind and outside of it.
My ultimate piece of advice though (and I don’t mean to sound like Shia LaBeouf) is to just do it. Start.
You’ll figure it out along the way, and even if your campaign fails at least you can say that you tried. Change will only ever come about when people try.
Areeq Chowdhury is the Chief Executive of WebRoots Democracy.